Sunday Evening Service: Romans 1:8-15, “Eagerness to Bring the Gospel to Rome”

7 Mar

Romans 1:8-15
Eagerness to Bring the Gospel to Rome

This section of Romans is more personal than the first seven verses. Remember, we said Paul wanted to keep the gospel “front and center” and so he did that through writing what he wrote in verses 1-7. Now, with verses 8-15, Paul turns to speaking directly to the church in Rome about his desires for their good. Not surprisingly, Paul directly connects their good with the spread of the gospel to them through his ministry. So let’s look at these verses tonight.

8  First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world.
When Paul says, “first” it is not that he is going to give a detailed argument with three points and a poem. There is no second or third or fourth in this passage. What Paul means in saying this is just another way of saying, “Let me begin by saying.”
Paul then expresses thanks. This is very common in Paul’s letters. Consequently ten of his thirteen epistles open with some form of “I thank my God”
One of the most prominent characteristics of Paul is thankfulness. I believe one of the secrets of his spiritual power was his thankfulness. I also believe it is a key thing we need to embrace as well. Now everything in our culture works against this. Almost every ad you’ll see on TV is designed to build in you a spirit of discontentment. You need this breath freshener, you need this hair color, you need this cheaper auto insurance, you need these potato chips. All around us are people who are complaining. People aren’t happy because they aren’t healthy enough or because they aren’t skinny enough or because they don’t have enough money. People aren’t thankful for the people around them. My wife is a ball and chain or my husband is a lazy bum or my kids are out of control. And some of the worst people in the world for this are pastors. And I don’t want to be like this but when I get together with other pastors what I hear so often is complaining about the people. And I think the same thing happens in congregations. I remember my dad telling me about being in the barber shop one time and the barber and one of the guys in the shop are from the same church and their talking about their pastor and my dad is just there minding his own business and keeping his mouth shut. And they’re just going up one side and down the other on their pastor, and then, who should walk in but their pastor. It got real quiet and my dad said it was all he could do to not just bust out laughing. How we need to be thankful. Paul is so thankful. The old hymn “Count Your Blessings” is right. Now I am not a fan of the tune to that hymn, it sounds like it should be sung by a bunch of cartoon mice, but the message is good. “Count your blessings name them one by one, count your blessings see what God has done, count your blessings, name them one by one. Count your many blessings see what God has done.” This is good. We need this. We need to live there. Thanksgiving transforms us.
It’s important to see the direction of Paul’s thanksgiving. He says his thanks is directed to “my God.” There are two things here that are significant. First, Paul acknowledges the truth of James 1:17, that every good and perfect gift comes from above. Paul is thankful to God because God is the source of every blessing. Second, Paul points to the truth that God is personal to him. Paul is in relationship with God. The Almighty is our Lord and He is our friend.
But why is He our friend? He is our friend “through Jesus Christ.” Jesus is our Mediator. Paul is going to explain this in glorious detail in Romans, but here he is hinting at it. The only reason I can give thanks, the only reason I can know God is because of Jesus Christ. Without Jesus, I am under God’s judgment. I can’t call Him my God because He will not save me, He will not reconcile me to Himself apart from Jesus. So again, Paul doesn’t waste a word. He is not using tired cliches. Everything Paul says here has meaning. And the meaning here is to hint at the importance of our great mediator.
Now Paul says in verse 8 what he is thankful for: namely for all in the church at Rome. Paul is a model for us in his attitude of gratitude. He is also a model for us in his love for all believers. Here is a group of believers he has never met and yet he loves them. He is thankful for them. Do we love the people of God, do I?
Why is Paul thankful for the church in Rome? Because their faith is proclaimed in all the world. You’ve heard of the phrase “all roads lead to Rome.” Rome was the seat of power in the Empire so it was noteworthy that there was a viable church there. Followers of Jesus in other places would be encouraged by this. The whole world refers to all the places where the gospel had gone out, not the whole globe. Still, the early church was grateful for a growing church in Rome. It is good that they were recognized for their faith, for wholehearted belief in Jesus. In our day, we hear about the programs of other churches or the buildings they have or their new vans or trips they took or their attendance or a conference they had, but its much less common to hear about a church’s faith. But our aim should be just to be known as a people who know and love Jesus and make Him known, not any of these other things.
Paul now moves on in verse 9 to speak of his desire to come to this noteworthy church in Rome . . .
9  For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you
The phrase “God is my witness” is Paul’s way of calling on God to keep him accountable if he is saying anything false. So he couldn’t make a stronger commitment that what he his following statement he had constantly prayed to come to the church in Rome was true.
Paul then describes himself in verse 9 by saying he serves God with my spirit in the gospel of His Son. This is a picture of full surrender. Paul has already called himself a bondslave in verse one, now he spells it out more clearly, his is a whole-hearted commitment to God. It is interesting that this Greek word for service is often translated worship in other places. The two ideas are closely related in Scripture. To serve is to worship; to worship is to serve. It is important, as our year verse Hebrews 10:24-25 says, to gather ourselves together for worship, but it is also important to serve others and when we do that we are worshiping in a different way.
The phrase “with my spirit” refers to this whole-hearted devotion. It’s not that Paul is talking about two parts of him, like his body and his spirit, but more like he is saying, “from the bottom of my heart,” “with all my heart.”
And we note here that the sphere of Paul’s whole-hearted service is the gospel of his Son. This accords so well with what Paul says elsewhere. His mission is to know and proclaim this gospel. Everything else flows from this. That I may know Him. To live is Christ. May I never boast, except in the cross of Christ, here is where he stays and so it should be for God’s people. Our lives are to be Jesus-shaped, Gospel-driven lives. I don’t think Paul did very much of anything without connecting it to the gospel and I think we are wise to walk the same course.
In this case, Paul’s heart for the good news about Jesus motivated him to pray unceasingly for the Roman church and his opportunity to come to them. I’ve often wondered why I struggle with prayer. I think sometimes it is sin. Sometimes it is the cares of everyday life distracting me. Sometimes it is lack of love for those for whom I should pray. But one thing I don’t consider very often is that it may be lack of love for the gospel. Prayerlessness may often be explained by a lack of love for the truth of Jesus crucified and risen and a lack of desire to proclaim that truth and therefore an unwillingness to pray for the successful moving of that truth into the lives of others. But this is not the case with Paul. He is not prayer less because precious Gospel truths are always bubbling up in his heart. And they are always bubbling up in his heart because this Gospel has changed him and now he has made it his constant meditation. So he prays.

10  always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you.
Martin Luther said, “Christian prayer is complete only when we intercede for the common good of all and not merely for ourselves.” So we see in verse 10 not only was Paul’s life and prayer gospel-focused, it was also others-focused. And the gospel-focus is what fed the others-focus. Again, if I am mostly self-centered, it may be that I am not living in light of the glory of the gospel consistently. And I can tell you from personal experience that you can be self-centered in ministry just as easily as you can in any other place in life. But this prayer of Paul is others-centered. He is asking God to make a way for him to come to the Romans.
So we see in verse 10 Paul’s commitment to the ministry of prayer. Paul is so active in ministry, but he is such a man of prayer. We don’t see that much in our day. We have so-called “prayer warriors” who don’t do much of anything else and then we have people who are always ministering but rarely pray. But we need to be both. Prayer is the fuel for real ministry. I have found the fruit of prayer powerfully affects the preaching of the Word. Frank Laubach said “It is the preacher’s business to look into the very face of God until he aches with bliss.” Preaching that does not grow out of a life of prayer is like “fruit” from an artificial tree. Where there is no life, there will be no real fruit. Paul’s commitment to prayer is part of the explanation for his incredible ministry. Prayer is the ultimate act of faith, putting everything in God’s hands, committing everything to His way. God honors that kind of heart. So He delights to bless people who pray from a heart of love for other people.
Second, we see in this verse that Paul was devoted to the will of God.
He was asking God that he might come to Rome, but only according to God’s will. It is not a weakening of prayer if we ask God to work according to His will. I definitely don’t want God to work according to my will. Paul is the servant, God is the Master, so Paul will see to do the Master’s will. But one of the things that is interesting about this verse is that there seems to be some uncertainty on the part of Paul as to how the will of God was going to unfold, in the way of timing. This is interesting because sometimes I think we get the idea that God just kind of told Paul where to go and what to do all the time. Clearly, there is some miraculous intervention on God’s part to Paul, but much of the time Paul is just working within the framework of his circumstances, trusting God to order his days. And I think there is wisdom in this approach. Seeking a sign from God for whether you should get out of your bed on the right side or the left is not helpful. Better to get out of bed seeking to know God and then hit the floor in prayerful obedience to live a life for His glory and the blessing of others. This is the Proverbs 3:5 life, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths.”

11  For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you–
Paul spoke of longing a lot in the New Testament.
2Co 5:1  For we know that if the tent, which is our earthly home, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2  For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling,

Phi 1:8  For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.

1Th 3:6  But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long to see you–

2Ti 1:4  As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy.

As Christians, sinful longings are replaced with a longing for our heavenly home and a longing for fellowship with other believers.
Paul wants to come to Rome first because he longs to see them. He longs to see this church in the heart of the Empire that he has never met. Many who have studied Romans think that the way Paul emphasizes his longing to visit the Church in Rome suggests that some of the Roman Christians may have felt slighted that the great ‘apostle to the Gentiles’ had not yet come to the capital of the Gentile world. This is speculation but I believe it has some merit. Paul will go on in the next couple of verses to assures them that his absence has not been from lack of desire but from lack of opportunity.
Paul also wants to come to Rome to impart a spiritual gift for the strengthening of the church in Rome. It is interesting that this gift is indefinite (Paul doesn’t yet know what this gift will be). But it is not indefinite as to its source (it is a spiritual gift, mediated through the Holy Spirit to Paul to be given to the Church in Rome). And it is not indefinite as to its goal (it is for the strengthening of the church in Rome).
Since verses 5 and 6 tell us that Paul’s mission is 5  to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, 6  including (the Church in Rome) who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, we must assume that the spiritual gift Paul was bringing them was his own spiritual gift of teaching and exhortation which would lead them to the obedience of faith. The reason it is “some” spiritual gift is because Paul does not yet know the Roman church, so he does not yet know what spiritual needs he is going to address.
But Paul broadens everything out in verse 12 in a beautiful way. Look at verse 12 . . .

12  that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.
Paul wants to make it clear that while he does have some genuine spiritual blessing to share with them, he is not coming to them as their Savior. In fact, he expects to be blessed by them and encouraged by their faith, even as they are encouraged by him.
John Stott says, “[Paul] knows about the reciprocal blessings of Christian fellowship and, although he is an apostle, he is not too proud to acknowledge his need of it. Happy is the modern missionary who goes to another country and culture in the same spirit of receptivity, anxious to receive as well as give, to learn as well as teach, to be encouraged as well as to encourage! And happy is the congregation who has a pastor of the same humble mind!”
In the same vein, the great Reformer John Calvin said, “Note how modestly he expresses what he feels by not refusing to seek strengthening from inexperienced beginners. He means what he says, too, for there is none so void of gifts in the Church of Christ who cannot in some measure contribute to our spiritual progress. Ill will and pride, however, prevent our deriving such benefit from one another.”
In verse 13, Paul turns back to explaining why he has not yet come to Rome . . .

13  I want you to know, brothers, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles.
The expression “I want you to know” or in some translations, “I do not want you to be ignorant” is a phrase Paul uses elsewhere when he is about to say something very important. This is seen in 1 Corinthians 12 when he begins his discussion of spiritual gifts and in 1 Thessalonians 4 when he talks about the second coming. So this phrase signals something very important. It is a point of emphasis with Paul.
In this case, Paul wants the believers in Rome to know that he has not intentionally neglected them. Paul explains that he had “planned many times” to come to them, but up until then he had “been prevented” from carrying through with his plans. It is not clear from this text what has hindered Paul, but Romans chapter 15 tells us.
Rom 15:18  For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience–by word and deed, Rom 15:19  by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God–so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ; Rom 15:20  and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation, Rom 15:21  but as it is written, “Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand.” Rom 15:22  This is the reason why I have so often been hindered from coming to you.
Again, John Calvin may be onto something here when he wrote, “We learn from this that the Lord frequently upsets the purposes of his saints in order to humble them, and by such humiliation to teach them to look to His providence, on which they are to depend.” Paul’s desires must, in the end, be submitted to God’s desires for him.
Ultimately, Paul wants to come to Rome in order to reap a harvest. That he calls it a “harvest” is significant.  Paul was not used to harvest ministries, he was used to sowing ministries. But here in Rome, the Word had already been sown, hearts had been prepared, the church is already growing and so Paul will come in and bring additional blessing to this work. So while Paul likes to take the Word to those who have never heard, he is happy to minister with the established church in Rome as well.

14  I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish.
In Romans, Paul mentions three obligations . . .
1. Paul is obligated to preach the gospel to all Gentiles.
2. Paul is not obligated to “the flesh” (8:12).
3. The Gentile church is obligated to help the mother church in Jerusalem (15:27).

In this case, the focus is on Paul’s obligation to preach the gospel to the Gentiles both inside and outside Rome. In using the phrases Greeks and barbarians, wise and foolish, Paul is citing the extremes to point to the whole. It is like he’s saying, “I’m going to reach out to the Bill Gates and Larry the Cable Guy.” And what he means is I’m going to reach out to everybody, no matter their class or social status.
Paul was under obligation. This is why he said, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel of Christ!” Oswald Chambers says of this passage in his book, My Utmost for His Highest, “Paul’s perspective should become “the characteristic of a Christian’s life once this level of spiritual honor and duty becomes real. Quit praying about yourself and spend your life for the sake of others as the bondservant of Jesus. That is the true meaning of being broken bread and poured-out wine in real life.”
But verse 15 puts a very interesting twist on Chambers’ words.

15  So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.
Paul’s sense of obligation to carry the message of Christ was not a burden. To the contrary, he was “eager to preach” to those who were in Rome. So yes, there is duty in the Christian life. Chambers is right, we should be like Paul, spending ourselves. But duty alone is ultimately a dead end. Nobody can go on forever in duty. There is a place for duty but it won’t sustain us. But when our duty is a delight, then we can do incredible things by the power of God. This is where I think many, many Christians go off the rails, they focus on duty without any delight. Paul’s obligation was not a burden, it was a joy. It’s like when you have a job. If you have a job, you have to go to work or you will not have a job for long. If you don’t like your job, you may say what my dad said every night before he went to work, “Please Mr. Custer, I don’t want to go.” But if you like your job, most days you are eager to be there. Our obligations don’t have to turn to just duties, they can be a delight. This is too rare for me, but there are times when cleaning the house really is a delight, because I know I am making things easier on Cindy. My love for her fills a mundane task with meaning and empowers me to serve more effectively. For us, ministry means walking with people through the muck of sin and pointing them to the grace and power of God. And the only way that will ever work for you is if you have a higher love. The love of Christ compels us.

I want to close tonight with one more thought from verse 15 that kind of sums up the passage. Paul is eager to preach the gospel to believers in Rome. We don’t usually think about preaching the gospel to believers. We think of preaching the gospel to unbelievers. Our faith begins with the gospel of grace, and our Christian lives are sustained by this same good news of grace over and over again.
John Piper says, “What Paul says here is that he is not merely interested in getting professions of faith by first-time preaching of the gospel (as crucial as that is). He is interested in bringing to God the offering of sanctified gentiles – that is, he wants to bring about the “obedience of faith” in the gentiles (1:5). And the way he works toward this end (according to Romans 15:16) is by “ministering the gospel of God,” applying the gospel of God’s grace. It’s the gospel of grace that converts and it’s the gospel of grace that sanctifies. We must tell people the gospel the first time; and we must “remind” people again and again of the meaning and implications of the gospel of free grace (15:15).
So the gospel of grace (Acts 20:24) is what we preach to unbelievers, and the gospel of grace is what we preach to believers. That is what Paul says in Romans 1:15. “I am eager to preach the gospel to you [believers!] also who are in Rome.”
Our faith feeds off the good news of the grace of God. And our obedience feeds off of faith. Therefore, to bring about the obedience of faith, we must hear the gospel of grace again and again. And we must hear it from each other, not just from me, sharing this truth time and time again as we share our spiritual gifts with one another. As Peter wrote in 1 Peter 4:10, “As each one has received a gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.”  In this way, we really will keep the gospel front and center.

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